Two dozen Humans, their faces mostly covered with makeshift masks, slunk into the Botza District under cover of darkness. Some were armed with weapons, though most carried workaday tools like crowbars and wrenches.
They planned to infiltrate the Eliksni Quarter and find evidence of aggression. If that failed, they would send a clear message that the House of Light was unwelcome in the Last City. Knives tore into banners. Noxious fumes filled the air. Paint cans rattled. The hum of the machinery around them disguised the sounds of their labor while hushed voices conferred in terse, conspiratorial tones.
"I think this is their food," a young woman whispered to her male companion while warily looking over her shoulder. She didn't see anyone as they crouched by a large Ether tank, but she imagined the Eliksni crowded together in a nearby building. Did they even sleep?
"Here, give me a hand with this," her companion said, pointing to what he guessed was a control panel.
Together they pried the face plate off, revealing a mess of wiring beneath. They shared a furtive glance and began pulling out wires by the fistful, hands shaky, their blood pounding in their ears.
A low whistle like a bird call fluttered through the night air. When they looked up, a Hunter stood over them only a few paces away, his face shadowed by a cowl. He held his Hand Cannon at hip level, aimed straight at them.
Their co-conspirators, drawn by the sound, gathered in their periphery, mentally calculating their chances. Not a single one liked the odds. Even those who came armed expected to fight the Fallen, not a Guardian.
The Hunter called out in a half-whisper: "I don't want any trouble."
The woman stood frozen as the young man beside her moved toward the Hunter, his jaw set. "No!" his companion hissed. "Are you crazy?" She grabbed his arm to haul him behind the ruined Ether tank, but he wrenched free.
The young man stepped slowly toward the Hunter. "You're on the wrong side of this thing," he started.
The Hunter pulled back on his Hand Cannon's hammer with an audible click.
"I don't think I am," he replied.
Unwilling to test the Hunter's mettle, the young man called over his shoulder. "Let's go."
The Hunter narrowed his eyes. He watched as the young man slinked past him and spat at his feet. Something old and terrible rose up inside of the Hunter; it took all of his focus to steady his hand.
The conspirators peeled away from their hiding places, one by one, disappearing into the dark. Some hissed choice insults and dispersions at the Hunter under their breath, though none dared to look at him.
In just a few minutes, the block was deserted except for the Hunter, who stood alone in the street until his Ghost complied over his shoulder.
It chirped with concern. "You wouldn't really have shot them, right?"
The Hunter hesitated as he holstered his weapon. "They needed to know I was serious, Glint."
"But you weren't," his Ghost insisted. Wordlessly, the Hunter began making his way through the destruction. Someone would sound the alarm soon—he didn't want to be there when they did.
"Tell me you weren't serious," his Ghost said again, lagging behind, "…were you?"